Earlier this month, Lynn Margherio, Founder and CEO of Cradles to Crayons, and City Connects Program Manager Sara Davey led a hearing at the Massachusetts State House to talk about clothing insecurity in the state of Massachusetts – and across the country.
“The goal,” Davey says of the briefing which was co-hosted by State Representative Marjorie Decker, “was to raise awareness and talk to legislators about how they can help children and families.”
Some legislators were already aware of the problem.
“Several legislators spoke from the heart about their own childhood experiences of living in low income situations,” Davey explains. “One legislator said that when he was young, his clothes came from a local church. It was powerful to hear from legislators who know what the impact of clothing insecurity is.”
Cradles to Crayons defines clothing insecurity “as the lack of access to affordable, adequate, appropriate clothing.” Families “may have some clothing and shoes, however, they may not fit properly, be in wearable condition, or be seasonally appropriate for the weather.”
Tackling social inequity is hard work. Last year, Salem Public Schools took on this challenge by forming a partnership with the nonprofit organization Equity Imperative that includes feedback from students.
That partnership led to the Student Voice Project, an effort to amplify students’ concerns and help them take action to address these concerns.
“We’re getting trained as adults to be facilitators,” Joy Richmond-Smith, the City Connects Coordinator at Salem’s Saltonstall School, says. “District staff are being trained about equity and race and how they affect our students, as well as about the negative impact of implicit bias and institutional racism in schools.”
The training for facilitators includes the Youth Participatory Action Research (or YPAR) framework, which encourages, according to YPAR’s website, the creation of “positive youth and community development” based on “social justice principles.”
“In each middle school and high school,” Richmond-Smith adds, “we organized a student voice group that’s supported by an adult mentor.” And this year the program expanded into Salem’s elementary schools.
Initially, the focus was on first steps. Richmond-Smith and Jaleesa Tentindo, a school counselor, worked with Saltonstall middle school students to identify “a pressing issue at our school that they want to research and then try to come up with recommendations for our school to implement,” Richmond-Smith says.
“The issue they chose was the lack of consistent and meaningful dialogue about race and racism.”